Phalaborwa — The Department of Water and Environmental Affairs (DWEA) has laid criminal charges against the owners of a tailing dam that overflowed and caused extensive pollution of the Selati and Olifants rivers in Limpopo.
The dam, owned by Phalaborwa-based mining company Bosveld Phosphates, overflowed in late December due to heavy rains, releasing highly acidic water into the Selati River, which flows into the Olifants River, killing fish over a 15km stretch of water.
"We have already taken administrative action and have laid criminal charges against Bosveld Phosphates for contravening the National Water Act," said DWEA director for compliance monitoring and enforcement Nigel Adams on Tuesday.
Adams said that samples had revealed water quality in the dam was well below the levels stipulated in the Act.
"Meetings with the mining company are taking place to come up with an action plan. This is a parallel process focusing on both investigating the incident and preventing further incidents," said Adams.
Adams added that more charges could be added depending on the results of the investigation.
"We are adopting a zero tolerance approach and want to have everything investigated as soon as possible," Adams said.
SANParks spokesman Ike Phaahla said that the environmental damage caused by the spill was "extensive and spreading".
"Dead fish have thus far been observed over a 15km stretch. Some fish have been taken for autopsies to determine the cause of death and acid levels," said Phaahla.
Phaahla added that a forensic report on the incident was being compiled and would be released soon.
The Selati River is a major tributary of the Olifants River, which supplies water to several camps in the Kruger National Park.
Phaahla said in a press statement that SANParks had taken immediate precautions to ensure safe water supply to tourist camps.
"Camps dependent on water from the Olifants River have been switched onto back-up borehole water, with associated water use restrictions. Water quality is thus unaffected in KNP tourist camps," he said.
Makhala Malatji, receptionist for Bosveld Phosphates, said that the mining company's sole environmental officer, Emile Corradi, was unavailable for comment as he was meeting with the department.